I had hoped it wouldn't come to this, but recent events in Arizona have turned this into a pressing issue.
Aaron Sele was once a pretty good pitcher. A first-round draft pick in 1991, he was pitching out of Boston's rotation within two years, putting up a 3.32 ERA as a starter before succumbing to muscle atrophy in his shoulder in 1995. Sele returned to the Red Sox a year later, showing a higher strikeout rate but simultaneously watching his ERA jump by 149 points over his 1994 figure. The reason? Bad defense. Look at how Sele's team defenses ranked over a four-year stretch:
1996, Boston: worst Defensive Efficiency in the AL
1997, Boston: third-worst
1998, Texas: worst
Over that span, Sele fanned more than seven batters per nine innings while limiting walks and home runs in hitter-friendly environments; the 4.88 combined ERA in those four years doesn't do justice to how effective Sele was in his prime. Able to keep his famed 12-9 curveball down in the zone, Sele still needed the guys behind him to convert balls in play into outs, but consistently porous infields and plodding outfields led to a cumulative .336 BABIP that killed his ERA.
Still a reliable pitcher with 128 games started over the previous four seasons, Sele was brought to Seattle in his age-30 season, where he rode an improved defensive unit to 32 wins and a decent ERA over two years.
Mariners fans remember Sele as a consistent #3 starter in the magical 2001 season, but the defense and spacious home ballpark masked an early decline that became all too apparent upon signing with Anaheim in 2002. Three years, 75 starts, and $24m later, all Sele has to show for his time in California is a 5.20 ERA and a scar on his shoulder. Now 34, the righty had to settle for a minor league contract with a familiar organization.
It's not without reason. Take a look at how his peripherals have progressed since peaking in 1999:
Aaron Sele's strikeout rate has decreased every year for five consecutive seasons, from 20.3% in 1999 to 8.6% in 2004. This loss of strikeouts has coincided with an increased (unintentional) walk rate and a slight bump in home runs. To make things worse, he's lost the ability to stay low in the zone, leaving more pitches up and turning into a slight flyball pitcher, where he used to be able to induce groundballs fairly regularly.
It doesn't help that there are endurance conerns. Once a guy who could throw 100 pitches a start without a problem, Sele has averaged just 84 per game over the last two years, seeing his innings/start plummet from 6.1 in 1998 to just over 5 last season.
Let's do a direct comparison between Sele and the guy he hopes to replace, using the 03/04 seasons as the data sample (in other words, since Ryan Franklin became a full-time starter):
Fans who have grown sick of Franklin's act aren't going to get any relief from Aaron Sele. Although he allows fewer homers, Sele falls short in each of the other categories, and I don't know anyone who would be willing to tolerate a K/BB around one just for the sake of saving an extra home run every 100 batters. As I mentioned earlier about Damian Moss, it's impossible to have consistent, sustained success as a pitcher if you're walking as many guys as you're striking out; hoping that Sele can catch lightning in a bottle for a year, when every indicator is pointing in the wrong direction, is a fool's errand.
There are three reasons commonly mentioned as support for Aaron Sele's push for the rotation:
(1) He's having a good spring
(2) He's not Ryan Franklin
(3) Like Jeff Nelson, he's a familiar name who conjures memories of the last great Mariners team
The thing is, spring stats don't matter, he's worse than Ryan Franklin, and the last great Mariners team also featured Mike Cameron and Carlos Guillen, who the organization let get away a year ago.
There is one particularly powerful argument against Sele breaking camp in the rotation: he's not an upgrade over any of the returning candidates. When we're looking at a division that could be decided by just one or two games, a division so balanced that we're talking about promoting Felix Hernandez to give the team an added boost, giving a bunch of starts to Aaron Sele will only serve to worsen the team's chances at competing, while forcing somebody else off the roster.
Ryan Franklin represents Aaron Sele's potential upside. With luck, the team will realize this when it comes time to name the rotation, and let Sele peddle his trade elsewhere.